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California Bar Exam Leaked by California State Bar

Gargantuan faux pas days before Tuesday’s California Bar Exam

By Katy Grimes, July 29, 2019 3:15 pm

From the “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up” file: On Sunday, the State Bar of California admitted that it mistakenly leaked essay topics for Tuesday’s bar examination to 16 law school deans last week.

Then after discovering the inadvertent leak, the State Bar emailed the essay topics to all 9,000 test-takers on Saturday night in “an attempt to level the playing field” in case any test-takers saw the email to the law school deans.

“We have no evidence the information was shared with students,” State Bar Association’s Chief of Programs Donna Hershkowitz, said in a statement on the California Bar Association website “However, out of an abundance of caution and fairness, and in an attempt to level the playing field should any applicants have had access to the information contained in the memo, on Saturday evening, we emailed the same information, verbatim, to all those preparing to take the examination.”

In recent years, some California law school deans called on the state to ease-up on the score. This would fall in line with former Gov. Jerry Brown’s suspension of the high school exit exam, and colleges and universities relaxing entrance qualifications. California bar exam test scores in 2016 and 2017 had dropped, prompting demands from law school students to lower the score requirements.

California’s remains one of the most stringent Bar exams in the country, with many attorneys agreeing with the higher standards, saying it should remain as-is.

In 2017,  the California Supreme Court declined to lower the required score. The  justices rejected the entire premise of changing the state’s score requirement, saying that the bar exam pass rate has fluctuated over time and recent drops appeared to be part of a “broader national pattern.” They instead said that law school admissions should be more stringent to help prevent so many graduates from failing the bar exam.

The California Supreme Court Justices said:

The court also encourages the State Bar and all California law schools to work cooperatively together and with others in examining (1) whether student metrics, law school curricula and teaching techniques, and other factors might account for the recent decline in bar exam pass rates; (2) how such data might inform efforts to improve academic instruction for the benefit of law students preparing for licensure and practice; and (3) whether and to what extent changes implemented for the first time during administration of the July 2017 exam — that is, adoption of a two-day exam and equal weighting of the written and multiple choice portions of the exam — might bear on possible adjustment of the pass score.  

Examination of these matters could shed light on whether potential improvements in law school admission, education, and graduation standards and in State Bar testing for licensure, combined with effective regulatory oversight of legal education, could raise bar exam pass rates and thereby reduce financial hardship for exam takers, and boost the availability of competent and effective attorneys across all demographics and for all Californians.

In casual conversation about this exam faux pas, an attorney friend wondered if this “slip up” of last week would result in raising the test scores this year.

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